Dunedin: Towards a Sustainable Urban Ecosystem
Nothing is being done right
This was an essay that I did for a paper at Amsterdam University recently. I’ve tried to format it as closely as possible to the original pdf.
I’m not a fan of smart cities. These could just as easily be renamed surveillance cities but I only really hint at this in this essay. We do though need to start using less oil and its byproducts even if its more to conserve these non-renewable assets (over centuries rather than decades) than it is to reduce CO2 emissions.
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In my current state analysis I chose Dunedin, a city of about 140,000 citizens on the lower east coast of the South Island of New Zealand. My analysis focuses on transport, food, a new hospital build and water. Other issues not attended to in this analysis (covered in my previous current state analysis) include tourism, waste, industry and international export and import, as Dunedin is also a port facing out onto the Pacific Ocean with a large export log business. My focus in this essay will have a special concentration on the new hospital build and transport. These two issues are the most pressing ones for Dunedin currently. And although Dunedin is both a University city and an urban environment, the surrounding area is mostly farming and forestry, so these are also considered.
“Transport makes up 20 percent of the World’s energy use; in OECD countries this has exceeded 30 percent” (Simonsen & Walnum, 2011).
New Zealand is no exception here, in fact we’re amongst the worst. This is really low hanging fruit in my view.
“In 2019 there were over 4.4 million registered motor vehicles in New Zealand that were driven almost 49 billion kilometres.” (Ministry of Transport, 2019).
New Zealand’s population in 2019 was, according to Stats NZ, 4.917 million. So registered cars were approximately 900 cars per 1,000 inhabitants which is a somewhat extraordinary number. In Dunedin there is practically no cycling infrastructure and (poorly patronised) buses are the only form of public transport. There is a train line which is very much under utilised, partly for freight (container) transport to the port, and partly for tourism although the local Council (led by a ‘Green’ mayor) is keen to dispose of the latter. The last local commuter train ran in the 1970s. In the past Dunedin also had a very extensive tram system, in fact one of the best in the world, but it was mostly torn up by the mid 1950s and since then the car has reigned supreme. To improve the circularity, or sustainability, of any city in today’s world, cars should be removed from the mix. They also interfere with the viability of other more efficient transport forms.
“Once just 10 percent or so of people were driving, the tracks were so crowded that [the streetcars] weren't making their schedules” (Stromberg, 2015).
There are 4.5 tonnes of CO2-equivalents in the manufacture of a VW Golf (Simonsen & Walnum, 2011) which is rather a small car by local standards. The same authors estimate a figure of 196.2 grams of CO2 equivalent per passenger car kilometre. In Dunedin assuming 225 grams of CO2 equivalent per passenger car kilometre would be reasonable. At 49,000,000,000 kms driven this amounts to 9,965 kilometres or 2.24 tonnes of CO2 per person. A shift of the fleet entirely to electric cars would halve this (ibid, table 15, p.344) but the total energy consumed by the electric cars would be 7874300000 MJ or 78.74 Petajoules which is approximately half of the total produced electricity in New Zealand (MBIE, 2020) with roughly 25% from non-renewable sources, coal and gas. It is unlikely that Dunedin uses any of that fossil fuel produced electricity as we are in the South Island where most of the hydro electricity is produced. We could safely assume therefore that each Dunedin resident would be responsible for roughly 1.5 tonnes of CO2 if Dunedin’s motor vehicle fleet became entirely electric. This is a relatively small improvement and the pressure it might put on New Zealand’s electricity generation is not insubstantial either. What are the alternatives? Trams are definitely one.
Dunedin used to have one of the most extensive tram networks in the world per head of population. There was also a train connecting the nearby towns of Port Chalmers (the main port for Dunedin) and Mosgiel via Dunedin. Unfortunately the tram tracks were torn up but the railway remains in place.
Dunedin has not grown very much in the last 90 years, 50km of tram track would once again make it a city of trams and it would be a trackage that is very similar to Montpellier a city that has installed 55km of tram track since 2000 (Le Tourneur, 2010), replacing the existing bus network. The cost of installation including the trams is about 40,000 NZD per km and the cost per person carried per trip is about 2 euros (ibid). The cost per kilometre of car travel is likely between 90 c (euro cents) and €1.10 per km (Lemp, 2008) although if you added the opportunity cost for for the car driver (i.e. he or she could be doing something more useful) then it would increase by 50% or so. Therefore, on a cost basis, the tram is cheaper and even more so if we factor in lost time for the car driver and if we were to see patronage rise above expectations on the Tram (which has occurred in Montpellier). And patronage would rise more if we were to remove the car from the mix.
Emissions are what needs to be offset in a circular city though. The fewer there are the less work there needs to be elsewhere. If we assume that the average tram trip is going to be 2km then this is likely replacing a longer car trip (walk to and from the tram but drive from home to destination and parking at destination), then we can safely assume that the car trip replaced is approximately (at least) 3 kilometres. What are the relative emissions?
Electric Cars (EVs) emit 336 grams of CO2 equivalent (basis of calculations above, assumed 3km). Not to forget that there are well known issues regarding scarce resources regarding raw materials.
Trams emits 89.72 grams per person per km, or 189.64 grams of CO2 equivalent, based on using ‘state of the art’ trams at about 19MJs per person per km. If you removed cars from the roads this would be significantly better due to higher patronage. Hydro Québec (2017) estimates 17 grams eq.*/kWh. which, as above, equates to 89.72 grams per person per km. ‘Run of river’ hydro is lower than this though at 6 grams, wind is 14 grams, and solar 64 grams (all per eq.*/kWh). The main hydro dam here is at -45° 33’ a latitude not so different to Quebec.
Normal bicycles emit practically zero for their use & manufacture. Dunedin’s CBD, largest suburb and University areas are one flat contiguous area, so perfectly suitable for this transportation (approximately half the population of the city live in this area). For the hill suburbs it would not be suitable for most riders.
Electric bicycle’s emissions per Bucher et al (2019) have savings in energy used up to 85% over EVs. They are suited to all parts of Dunedin and workable for most of the population (I use one everyday).
Removing cars from the mix and a move (back) to trams and bicycles makes the most sense. Even if EVs were charged on electricity that would be otherwise unused they still clog roads and have most of their emissions encased in their manufacture. And at 1,000kgs plus (up to 4,500kgs plus for 4WDs) and mostly carrying one person of say 80kgs they are an unnecessary burden on the planet’s biosphere. Car drivers need to get over their aversion to public transport, and some need to get over their aversion to other people.
“Yet a survey by Golicic et al.(2010) finds that fewer than 10% of Fortune 500 companies have addressed the environmental impacts of transportation, and even fewer are actively implementing improvements, despite the fact that such initiatives would also tend to reduce fuel usage and costs in the long run.” (Wakeland et al, 2012).
The blame in the above quote is exactly where it should be.
Dunedin relies on food being imported, either from elsewhere in New Zealand or from overseas with very little food produced for local consumption in the surrounding area. The overseas component of the food and beverages consumed in Dunedin is hard to quantify but it is likely somewhere between 50 & 70% (Stats NZ).
Below is a table from Wakeland et al (ibid) which clearly shows that, for a country like New Zealand, we should be producing most of our food locally due to the distances involved (often 8,000km or more) in getting imported food into the country.
Of course this would likely change considerably if food was transported by sea using wind power rather than fossil fuels but for the moment importing bananas from Equador (11,479 km) when they could be grown in Kerikeri (1,700 km) or imported from Australia (2,294 km) does not make sense at 5 or 6 times the emissions in transport. Maybe it would be better just to remove them from the Dunedin diet and concentrate on eating what can be grown in a reasonable (sustainable) distance.
For water Dunedin relies mostly on catchments up to 60km away from the city. It is a downhill drop though so there’s not much pumping involved. There is also a bore and pumped water from the Taieri Plains, which, at approximately one metre above sea level, requires the use of pumps for delivery. The catchments are vulnerable to climate change and there was a very damaging fire in 2019. The pipes need upgrading. It is out of the bounds of this essay to suggest an alternative but it would seem that searching for more local sources should be prioritised.
Port Chalmers (13km from Dunedin City) is responsible for 14% of New Zealand’s total export value. Port Chalmers is the country’s third largest export port (by cargo value) and Dunedin is second only to Auckland in numbers of Cruise Ship visitors. Dairy is very expensive in emissions and is New Zealand’s main export mostly to China. Due to a Free Trade Agreement log exports to China are also up substantially and this is creating a shortfall locally with significant delays in building as a result. It is clearly also happening in France which seems somewhat ridiculous (Escalona, 2021). Russia on the other hand has put restrictions on log exports favouring local purchasers. Logs are not exactly light and there is approximately 400kg per cubic metre of volume (Berg, 2008). This is equal therefore to at least 448kgs of CO2 equivalent per 400kg of logs exported to China (based on Wakeland et al’s table from above).
Dunedin’s forests, with a significant number owned by the local council, should stop exporting logs until they can be exported using the power of wind (with the proviso that this is required to still fit into a reasonable emissions profile).
Dairy is also very expensive in water per litre of milk (at least several thousand litres of water per one litre of milk, there are various estimates) and other environmental impacts (Porter, 2021). As Mike Joy states (ibid) the industry is basically funded by subsidies, the largest one being water.
The Taieri Plain near Dunedin is mostly dairy, it should therefore be converted to plant food and this in turn would be more than capable of feeding the local region.
It is difficult to justify international tourism to New Zealand as the emissions to get here are very high regardless of the form of travel. Wind powered ships should fix this issue at some stage for Australia and the nearer islands of the Pacific. Electric powered aircraft may be viable in the future however this is more likely on the domestic front rather than the international one. There are plans to build a new large airport in Central Otago to service Wanaka and Queenstown. I’d suggest instead consolidating the airports of Invercargill, Dunedin and Queenstown at a suitable site in West Otago or Northern Southland and building a fast rail circuit to move the passengers between the airport and their destination.
The New Dunedin Hospital build.
The graphic below, from the Otago Daily Times (only a few weeks after my cynical report on the same...) shows that the claims of the American company Ceres that they are recycling 87% of the materials from the demolition of the old Cadbury’s site, which is going to be part of the new Dunedin Hospital site, are basically just not believable in any way at all. The claim that 13,818 tonnes are recycledwhen it is just removed to landfill is typical for such corporates. It is likely very reasonable to assume that none of the materials at this site are being recycled. But even if we take them at their word about the steel and the salvage items then only just over 5% of the materials are being recycled. This is a far cry from the claims, but oh so typical.
One estimate of the amount of CO2 in the construction phase is 8.838 kg of CO2 per M2 (Lee et al, 2018). In an article on recycling of buildings in Engineering and Technology (2020) it is stated that a new building “produces up to 13 times more embodied carbon than a refurbished building would be responsible for. This is a very large difference. At 99,224 m2 (Ministry of Health, 2019) the amount of embodied carbon for the new hospital build is likely close to 877 million kilograms or 877,941 tonnes. The demolition of the current building on the site with practically no recycling, as just pointed out, means that there is no offset. If instead of demolition and a new build the decision had been made to renovate either the current site or the hospital at Wakari (which currently operates as a mental health facility and is 3.8 kilometres distant) then conceivably the embodied carbon would have been more like 67,000 tonnes, a significant saving. It needs to be added that Wakari Hospital is more suitable for parking and its renovation to bring it up to a suitable standard would not be a significant intrusion on other businesses or educational facilities as the city build is. It is also safe from sea level rise at about 167 meters above sea level (MASL). On the other hand the site
that has been chosen is reclaimed land and sits at about 1 MASL which is noted in part in the report
“This report indicated a considerable risk and recommended a raised ground floor level for critical activities and infrastructure as a result” (p.80, ibid).
Further in a very recently released report by a company called Synergia (2021) they recommend closing Wakari Hospital “Signal the intent to close the adult mental health and intellectual disability inpatient facilities located on the Wakari site.” (p.11 #15).
Finally it should be noted that most of the Southern Health Board’s administration staff are housed at the current Wakari Hospital site and it is close enough to 100% utilised with a rough estimate being 20% mental health and 80% administration.
A renovation of the Wakari site would be significantly cheaper than a new build and much more sensible in relation to emissions. In addition this could be staged with the possibility of renovating parts of the existing hospital that need it in the meantime.
Housing is much as per the hospital, renovating present buildings is far more sustainable than demolish and rebuild. In fact there should be local bylaws prohibiting the second in most cases. New builds should require as much reuse of used materials as possible.
Sewerage - there are obvious problems with the way we currently process this, from the flush toilet with its water to the toilet paper that we use too much of, to the non-recycling of sewerage (or nutrient recovery) to how often it ends up in a pipe at the beach. The development at Schoonschip (Metabolic, 2021) may point to a future but for the moment the target market for this development is one that barely exists here in Dunedin. There are also issues to do with privacy that need to be ironed out before such a scheme is pushed out generally.
Electricity - in Dunedin this is 100% hydro so this is not currently an issue albeit there has been some literature lately that points to storage dams not being as CO2 emissions efficient as previously thought. But they’re still better than fossil fuels especially away from the tropics. The most efficient hydro is running water in rivers, and I’d expect to see more of this generation in the future. In New Zealand it is also difficult to run local scale power generation due to grid issues and in regards to wind, well organised opposition. There is a lot of current debate around the behaviour of the neo- liberal electricity distribution model that we inherited from Governments of the 1980s and 1990s, so some change will be happening, We just have to make sure that it is a change that benefits everyone, something that is quite obviously more difficult now than it was in 2019 and even more so than it was in 1973 the year of oil crisis. Why we let this happen is beyond me but it’s still fixable, just.
Clearly we should be moving to more sustainable transport systems, demolishing buildings should be majorly restricted, ‘food miles’ need to be drastically reduced, tourism needs a complete reset, and very challenging for New Zealand the export of milk and logs is not sustainable. This means the current economic model for Dunedin and New Zealand is broken and what’s more it has been since at least the 1980s and neo-liberalism. The destruction of the previous transport system, trams especially, in the 1950s was short-sighted at best.
Bailey, R., Dravitzki, V., Patrick, J. (2001) Recycling of Materials for More Sustainable Road Construction. Transit New Zealand Research Report 219. 52pp. Berg, Peter (2008) 'Radiata pine - The wood', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, accessed 16th August 2021 from; http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/radiata-pine/page-6 Bucher, Dominik & Buffat, René & Froemelt, Andreas & Martin, Raubal. (2019). Energy and greenhouse gas emission reduction potentials resulting from different commuter electric bicycle adoption scenarios in Switzerland. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews. 114. 10.1016/j.rser.2019.109298. Engineering and Technology Editorial Staff (2020) Recycle and reuse buildings to curb climate change, report insists, accessed 16th August 2021 from; https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2020/02/recyle-and-reuse-buildings-to-curb-climate-change-report-insists/ Escalona, Anaïs (2021) La Chine vide la France de ses forêts et de son bois, une "aberration économique et écologique" selon les instances, accessed 16th August 2021 from; https://www.ladepeche.fr/2021/08/10/la-chine-vide-la-france-de-ses-forets-et-de-son-bois-une-aberration-economique-et-ecologique-selon-les-instances-9725157.php Hydro Québec (2017) Understanding Québec hydropower, accessed 16th August 2021 from; https://www.hydroquebec.com/data/developpement-durable/pdf/ghg-emissions.pdf Le Tourneur, Marc (2010) The tramway aka LRT aka VLT. Comparison between BRT and tramway in Montpellier. Lee, Jonggeon., Tae, Sungho and Kim, Rakhyun (2018) A Study on the Analysis of CO2 Emissions of Apartment Housing in the Construction Process, Sustainability 2018, 10, 365; doi:10.3390/su10020365 Lemp, Jason D. (2008) Quantifying the External Costs of Vehicle Use: Evidence from America’s top Selling Light-duty Models. Metabolic (2021) A sustainable floating neighborhood, accessed 16th August 2021 from; https://www.metabolic.nl/projects/schoonschip/ Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) (2020) Energy in New Zealand 20, accessed 16th August 2021 from; https://www.mbie.govt.nz/dmsdocument/11679-energy-in-new-zealand-2020 Ministry of Health (2019) New Dunedin Hospital, Preliminary Site Masterplan Report. Ministry of Transport NZ (2019) Annual fleet statistics 2019, accessed 16th August 2021 from; https://www.transport.govt.nz/assets/Uploads/Report/AnnualFleetStatistics.pdf Motor Industry Association (2021), accessed 16th August 2021 from; https://www.mia.org.nz/Sales-Data/Vehicle-Sales NZ Transport Agency (2011) Is cooler better? Examining the case for warm asphalt, accessed 16th August 2021 from; https://www.nzta.govt.nz/assets/resources/nzta-research/docs/nzta-supp-3.pdf Porter, Nadine (2021) Pay farmers $12 billion to stop dairying, ecologist urges, Stuff Media, accessed 16th August 2021 from; https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/climate-news/125962807/pay-farmers-12-billion-to-stop-dairying-ecologist-urges Public Transport Users Association (or PTUA) Victoria (2021) Myth: Trams have more greenhouse emissions than cars, accessed 16th August 2021 from; https://www.ptua.org.au/myths/tram-emissions/ Simonsen, Morten and Walnum, Hans Jakob (2011) Energy Chain Analysis of Passenger Car Transport, Energies 2011, 4, 324-351; doi:10.3390/en4020324 Stromberg, Joseph (2015) The real story behind the demise of America's once-mighty streetcars, Vox, 2015, accessed 16th August 2021 from; https://www.vox.com/2015/5/7/8562007/streetcar-history-demise Synergia (2021) Time for a Change, Te Hurihanga, A review of the mental health and addiction system, accessed 16th August 2021 from; https://www.southernhealth.nz/publications/mental-health-and-addictions-review released-next-steps-underway United States Environmental Protection Agency (2021) Greenhouse Gases Equivalencies Calculator - Calculations and References, accessed 16th August 2021 from; https://www.epa.gov/energy/greenhouse-gases-equivalencies-calculator-calculations-and-references URS on behalf of the Ministry for the Environment (2006) Product stewardship case study for end- of-life tyres, accessed 16th August 2021 from; https://environment.govt.nz/assets/Publications/Files/product-stewardship-endoflife-tyres-may06.pdf Van Der Weeden, Sam (2017) The Tramways of the City of Dunedin, accessed 16th August 2021 from; https://caffeinatedmaps.com/2017/11/14/the-tramways-of-the-city-of-dunedin/ Wakeland, Wayne & Cholette, Susan & Venkat, Kumar. (2012). Food Transportation Issues and Reducing Carbon Footprint. 10.1007/978-1-4614-1587-9_9.
Melbourne’s is 4km but Dunedin is a smaller city so 2km is unlikely to be too far from reality. https://www.ptua.org.au/myths/tram-emissions/
Suggested to me by algorithms.
To make matters worse it’s very unlikely that this is local as claimed as that dump is unsuitable, it’s likely to be a many kilometres away by truck, either south (Gore) or north (Christchurch).
Personal conversation with an employee who works there.
From previous investigation of this lobby in Victoria, Australia, most of it seems to be funded by fossil fuel interests.